One week ago, several members of the Cardinals organization, including general manager Monti Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon, spent a grand total of six hours traveling back and forth to Norman, Oklahoma, to witness the unveiling of a statue for Kyler Murray on the University of Oklahoma campus and support their quarterback.
Yes, six hours. The contingent left Arizona at 6:45 a.m. for the one-hour, 40-minute ride on owner Michael Bidwill’s plane. They were back by 12:30 p.m.
Somehow, Ossenfort’s staff was able to overcome that massive amount of missed time preparing for the draft and pulled off four trades in the first three rounds that landed what they hope are four quality players while also acquiring a 2024 first-round pick and two third-round choices.
Yes, there was the unfortunate trade with the Eagles for tampering during the hiring of Gannon, but even that one added a fifth-round pick next year. While it hurt losing the third choice in the third round, Ossenfort was able to wheel and deal and eventually add the ninth choice in that round.
After the trade down and trade back Thursday that resulted in the first-round selection of tackle Paris Johnson Jr., Ossenfort said, “I’m not going to lie, it was exciting. It was awesome and that was a lot of fun.”
When the second day concluded Friday with two more deals, he was asked about the experience of his first two days running a team’s draft room.
“Everything I expected and more,” he said. “It has been two great nights. Once again, the staff was outstanding tonight. A couple times we had four or five scenarios up on the board. Some of them manifested themselves, some of them didn’t. Our group was ready, our group was prepared. There’s nothing that I would change about how we’ve prepared for this draft and how it’s gone. So it’s been awesome to be a part of.”
It’s also no coincidence (although Ossenfort claimed it was) that there was a common thread of familiarity between the three teams that constituted the four trades: Houston, Tennessee and Detroit (two).
Ossenfort worked with Texans general manager Nick Caserio when both were with the Patriots; he was with the Titans as director of player personnel the previous three seasons; and his assistant general manager Dave Sears began with the Lions in 2017 and became the director of college scouting in 2019.
“What it does do is it makes the conversation easy,” Ossenfort said. “I can call up Nick, who has been a friend and a mentor of mine. I trust Nick and he trusts me and we can have honest conversations about ‘Hey, yeah, this would work. This wouldn’t work.’ And Dave being able to pick up the phone and initiating conversations with Detroit.
“Sure, that helps. But in the end, we’re going to do the best move that’s best for the team, regardless of who is on the other end.”
To review, the draft opened with the Cardinals trading the third overall pick in the draft along with the third pick in the fourth round to the Texans for the 12th selection in the round, the second pick of the second round and first-and third-round choices in 2024.
Then the Cardinals moved up to the sixth pick in the round and sent the Lions the third pick in the second round and 34th choice (compensatory) in the fifth round for that No. 6 choice and the 18th pick in the third round.
In the tampering trade, the Cardinals moved from the third pick of the third round to the 31st choice with the Eagles moving up to third. Holding the second choice of the second day, the Cardinals sent it and that 18th choice in the third round to the Titans for the 10th pick in the second round, the ninth choice in the third round and a 2024 third-round choice.
The previous trades had left the Cardinals without any picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds. Had they selected with the 33rd choice, their next pick wouldn’t have been until the third pick of the sixth round, a span of 84 selections. So after using the ninth and 31st choices in the third round on cornerback Garrett Williams and wide receiver Michael Wilson, the Cardinals traded that 33rd choice to the Lions for the 20th slot the fourth round and two fifth-round choices: the fifth pick in the round and they got back the 34th choice that they had traded to the Lions in the first-round deal.
Asked if there was temptation in that trade to add another 2024 choice, Ossenfort said,
“Yes and no. I think our motivation was to get back in the fourth and the fifth round. Just because of the way things had fell, we had got cleaned out there and so it allows us to be alive in the draft tomorrow. That was more of the motivation at that point, rather than pushing one more thing into 2024.”
In addition to those fourth- and fifth-round choices Saturday, the Cardinals currently have the third and 36th (compensatory) picks in the sixth round, but no seventh-round choice. Surely, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ossenfort manage to acquire a pick in the final round.
While most pre-draft discussion believed adding as many picks as possible would be what Ossenfort wanted to achieve, he said, “I wouldn’t say it was a goal,” instead insisting it was a product of how their board was stacked providing the flexibility to trade down while still selecting players they wanted.
“I think it’s more a case of when opportunity presents itself,” he said. “Those opportunities to drop back or to pick really depend on what the board looks like and how many options you have. Is this normal? I don’t know what a normal draft is. I can’t say that this is my philosophy. It’s really, these opportunities presented themselves and we took advantage of them.”
Cardinals Day 2 snapshots
Edge rusher BJ Ojulari, LSU: Ossenfort said the theme of the second day was “football character” and he used the term frequently. His words summed up edge rusher Ojulari, whom the Cardinals selected with the 10th pick of the second round.
“BJ wearing the prestigious No. 18 jersey at LSU, given to the player that represents the values of what LSU’s program is about. It’s awarded by coaches and staff members to one player each year and that was BJ this year. So again, a talented football player and an even better person that we’re anxious to add to the program.
“He’s got three-down ability. He’s not the tallest guy, but he’s got length, he uses his length, he’s got a good feel, he’s got good get-off off the edge. He can bend, he can turn the corner. He brings some juice out there on the edge, and he’s got a non-stop motor. I think they showed some of the highlights of him when he got picked; his ability to close space from the back side. He really plays relentlessly. So those are some things that attracted him to us. And another guy that the makeup, the football character, the football talent on the field, it all added up for us.”
“The No. 18 means a lot to me; just my legacy,” said Ojulari, whose brother played at Georgia and is now with the New York Giants. “Especially coming from LSU and being a Georgia boy and going to LSU to create my legacy and being able to represent the state of Louisiana and wear that No. 18. It is a big testament to me and how I carry myself and my character.”
Of his own strengths, Ojulari said, “I think I do a great job using my ability and athleticism to get the edge, bend the edge, create plays in the backfield and disturb the quarterback. I think I do a great job causing havoc in the backfield, creating TFLs and movement along the line as well.”
Cornerback Garrett Williams, Syracuse: With the ninth pick in the third round, the Cardinals added help at a critical position. Williams suffered a torn ACL against Notre Dame on Oct. 29 and he undoubtedly would have been a higher pick if he hadn’t suffered the injury.
“My goal; I should be ready by July,” he said. “That’s what the doctors are saying. Everything I’ll leave up to the training staff in Arizona, and things like that. But I feel really good about where I’m at in my rehab and recovery. Everybody I’ve been working with has been really impressed about the things that I’ve been able to do and just how hard I’ve been going at it.”
Despite the rehab process, Williams still attended the NFL Combine and did 30-visits.
“My biggest thing was just taking control of what I can control,” he said. “So when it came to going to the Combine, doing interviews, 30 visits, being the best person at interviews. I can’t compete physically, but I need to show that I’m sharper than anyone else when it comes to knowing the game.
“My knowledge of those around me, things like that, so that’s what I prioritized. And after I did that, I was very comfortable, I knew things were going to kind of play out how they did. So you can’t really stress when you can’t control certain things.”
Most important for Williams was that he rehabbed while traveling for visits.
“It was a little bit difficult, but after the second visit I started bringing all of my stuff I needed to do to rehab,” he said. “When I’d fly in that night, I’d find the hotel’s gym and I’d just do my workouts there, so that way I didn’t miss days and things like that. I tried to stay on track as much as I could even though I didn’t have as many resources as usual.”
Williams entered the draft with eligibility remaining and he said there was never a thought to change his mind after being injured.
“It was an easy decision,” he said. “Going into this past season, I told myself, ‘I’m leaving regardless and if I’m going to do that, I need to do everything right from football to school to relationships.’ I said, ‘If I do all the things the best that I can and whatever happens is going to happen and I can live with it,’ and all of a sudden imagine getting hurt.
“But when I got hurt I decided to come to myself and realize this is what we planned. I told myself whatever happens is going to happen and I’ll be ready to go. I just had to trust what I put on film up to that point and who I am as a player as well, feeling like regardless of where I went, I could compete at the next level.”
Ossenfort called Williams “an impressive, impressive individual. Again, football character through the roof. Mature, tough, dependable. We feel good about where he is (in rehab) and where he will be. He’ll come in here and keep rolling with his rehab and we’ll get him out there as soon as we can.
“He’s played inside, he’s played outside. He’s extremely tough and physical. He’s not the tallest guy, but he plays bigger than his size. He’s productive on the ball. He’s a good tackler.”
When told that Williams brought things with him when doing visits so he could rehab, Ossenfort said, “That doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m anxious to get him here and see where he is at. We feel good about the way Garrett has approached his rehab to this point, and we feel good about how he’ll push it over the goal line here at the end. I’m not, in the least bit concerned about how Garrett’s going to attack his rehab.”
Wide receiver Michael Wilson, Stanford: Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy identified Wilson before the draft as a “sleeper” and one of those players that will be a top achiever.
The Cardinals had similar thoughts in selecting him with the 31st pick of the third round.
“Good size, good toughness, physical receiver,” Ossenfort said. “Played at the Senior Bowl (and) had a very good week down there in Mobile. An impressive kid. Another guy that our scouts had identified as having high football character, a guy that we wanted to add to our program.”
Wilson’s career has had several injuries, including a broken collarbone on Oct. 15 against Notre Dame, oddly two weeks before Williams tore his ACL against the Fighting Irish. He told reporters Friday evening, “I’m fully healthy,” while acknowledging there have been struggles with injuries.
“Especially that my injuries were considered by the doctors random and unlucky,” he said. “I’ve never had a soft-tissue injury. All of them were bone fractures, collarbone breaks, a hand fracture. So, a lot of stuff was out of my control, but going through adversity, being tested, I think helped improve me as a man. It increased my love for the game because there are plenty of times when being out for 12 months straight, I could have folded it up and made excuses and said, ‘Woe is me.’
“I doubled down and went harder and wanted it more. I’m actually very, very — I wouldn’t say I’m happy I went through it, but I wouldn’t change a thing because it molded me into the person I am now. I know going through adversity and being battle-tested; I know what it takes to go through something hard and make it out on the other side.”
He did express shock at being selected by the Cardinals.
“Talking with my agent, I feel like that was one of the teams that we weren’t really focused on getting drafted by,” he said. “I know there’s a connection between myself and the receivers coach (Drew Terrell), who actually wore my number. He was a Stanford grad. So I know, we kind of had that in common. But this was honestly a team I would not have even put in my top 10 to draft me.”
Asked about his strengths, Wilson said, “I would say, obviously, intangible stuff. Definitely, you guys are getting a guy that loves the game of football and is obsessive about his grind in the pursuit of perfection. When I get there, I want to earn a role in leadership. I want to earn the trust of my teammates. So, you’re just adding a good guy. A Stanford man, being a Stanford grad. I have an engineering degree, so I do operate at an extremely high level.
“Then, as a football player, objectively, I think you’re getting a big receiver who can learn, who has got great technique, good hands, reliable hands, is a blocker. Kind of a guy who is a jack-of-all-trades. Great releases. An ability to create separation at the line of scrimmage and at the top of my route. I think you guys are getting a complete receiver, but most importantly, a guy who loves the game of football and will do whatever it takes to be the best player I can be.”
On paper and in draft reviews, the Cardinals performed well the first two days. However, that’s what most teams believe. We will know soon enough whether that’s really the case.
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